Call of Cthulhu (role-playing game)

Call of Cthulhu (role-playing game)

Infobox RPG
title=Call of Cthulhu

caption="Call of Cthulhu" edition 5.5 rulebook cover
designer=Sandy Petersen
system=Basic Role-Playing (BRP)
(Adaptations into other systems also available)

"Call of Cthulhu" is a horror fiction role-playing game based on H. P. Lovecraft's story of the same name and the associated Cthulhu Mythos.citation
contribution=Call of Cthulhu
author-link=Monte Cook
editor-link=James Lowder
title=Hobby Games: The 100 Best
publisher=Green Ronin Publishing
] The game, often abbreviated as "CoC", is published by Chaosium. It has won several major awards.


The setting of "Call of Cthulhu" is a darker version of our world, based on H. P. Lovecraft's observation (from his short essay, "Supernatural Horror in Literature") that, "The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." There are three primary eras of the original (BRP) game: the 1920s, the setting of many of Lovecraft's stories; the 1890s "Gaslight" supplements, a blend of occult and Holmesian mystery and mostly set in England; and modern conspiracy ("Cthulhu Now"). Recent additions include 1000 AD ("Cthulhu: Dark Ages"), 23rd Century ("Cthulhu Rising") and Roman times ("Cthulhu Invictus"). The protagonists may also travel to places that are not of this earth, represented in the Dreamlands (which can be accessed through dreams as well as being physically connected to the earth), as well as travel to other planets or the voids of space.

Gameplay experience

The players take the roles of ordinary people drawn into the realm of the mysterious: detectives, criminals, scholars, artists, war veterans, etc. Often, happenings begin innocently enough, until more and more of the workings behind the scenes are revealed. As the characters learn more of the true horrors of the world and the irrelevance of humanity, their sanity inevitably withers away (the game actually includes a mechanism for determining how damaged a character's sanity is at any given point). To access the tools they need to defeat the horrors – mystic knowledge and magic – the characters must be willing to give up some of their sanity.

"Call of Cthulhu" has a reputation as a game in which it is quite common for a player character to die in gruesome circumstances or end up in a mental institution.


For as long as they stay healthy (or at least functional), characters may be developed. "Call of Cthulhu" does not use levels, but is completely skill-based, with player characters getting better with their skills by succeeding at them.



The original conception of "Call of Cthulhu" was "Dark Worlds", a game commissioned by the publisher Chaosium but never published. Sandy Petersen, now best known for his work on the "Doom" computer game, contacted them regarding writing a supplement for their popular fantasy game "RuneQuest" set in Lovecraft's Dreamlands. He took over the writing of "Call of Cthulhu", and the game was released in 1981, using a simplified version of the Basic Role-Playing system used in "RuneQuest". [cite journal| last =Turnbull| first =Don| authorlink = | coauthors = | title =Open Box: Call of Cthulhu| journal =White Dwarf| volume = | issue =Issue 32| pages =18| publisher =Games Workshop| year = 1982| month = August| issn = 0265-8712] The game won three major awards in the following year.


Since Petersen's departure, continuing development of "Call of Cthulhu" has passed to Lynn Willis, who since the fifth edition has been credited as co-author. The game is now in its sixth edition, but the rules have changed little over the years. In 2002, the "Call of Cthulhu 20th Anniversary Edition" won the Origins Award for "Best Graphic Presentation of a Book Product 2001".

* "Call of Cthulhu", 1st Edition (1981)
* "Call of Cthulhu Designer's Edition" (1982)
* "Call of Cthulhu", 2nd Edition (1983)
* "Call of Cthulhu", 3rd Edition (1986)
* "Call of Cthulhu", 4th Edition (1989)
* "Call of Cthulhu", 5th Edition (1992)
* "Call of Cthulhu" 5.5 (1998)
* "Call of Cthulhu" 5.6 (2000)
* "Call of Cthulhu 20th anniversary edition" (2001)
* "Call of Cthulhu Miskatonic University edition" (2001)
* "Call of Cthulhu", 6th Edition (2004)
* "Call of Cthulhu" 25th anniversary edition (2006)

Early releases

Given its roots in the RPG tradition, many of the early releases for "Call of Cthulhu" were still based in the framework set down by "Dungeons & Dragons". They often involved the characters wandering through caves and fighting different types of horrible monsters.Fact|date=February 2008 Nonetheless, the emphasis on real-life settings, character research, and thinking one's way around trouble gave it a wide audience.

The first book of "Call of Cthulhu" adventures was "Shadows of Yog-Sothoth". In this work, the characters come upon a secret society's foul plot to destroy mankind, and pursue it first near to home and then in a series of exotic locations. This template was to be followed in many subsequent campaigns, including "Fungi from Yuggoth" (later known as "Curse of Cthulhu" and "Day of the Beast"), "Spawn of Azathoth", and possibly the most highly acclaimed, "Masks of Nyarlathotep". [cite journal
last =Frances
first =Phil
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Open Box: Dungeon Modules
format =
journal =White Dwarf
volume =
issue =Issue 71
pages =7–8
publisher =Games Workshop
year = 1985
month = November
url =
issn =0265-8712
accessdate =
] Many of these seem closer in tone to the pulp adventures of "Indiana Jones" than H. P. Lovecraft, but they are nonetheless beloved by many gamers.

"Shadows of Yog-Sothoth" is important not only because it represents the first published addition to the boxed first edition of "Call of Cthulhu", but because its format defined a new way of approaching a campaign of linked RPG scenarios involving actual clues for the would-be detectives amongst the players to follow and link in order to uncover the dastardly plots afoot. Its format has been used by every other campaign-length "Call of Cthulhu" publication. The standard of "CoC" scenarios was well-received by independent reviewers. "The Asylum and Other Tales", a series of stand alone articles released in 1983, rated an overall 9/10 in Issue 47 of "White Dwarf" magazine. [cite journal
last =Sutherland
first =Jon
authorlink =
coauthors =
title =Open Box: Dungeon Modules
format =
journal =White Dwarf
volume =
issue =Issue 47
pages =14
publisher =Games Workshop
year = 1983
month = November
url =
issn =0265-8712
accessdate =

The standard of the included 'clue' material varies from scenario to scenario, but reached its zenith in the original boxed versions of the "Masks of Nyarlathotep" and "Horror on the Orient Express" campaigns. Inside these one could find matchbooks and business cards apparently defaced by non-player characters, newspaper cuttings and (in the case of "Orient Express") period passports to which players could attach their photographs, bringing a Live Action Role Playing feel to a tabletop game. Indeed, during the period that these supplements were produced, third party campaign publishers strove to emulate the quality of the additional materials, often offering separately-priced 'deluxe' clue packages for their campaigns.

Additional milieu were provided by Chaosium with the release of "Dreamlands", a boxed supplement containing additional rules needed for playing within the Lovecraft Dreamlands, a large map and a scenario booklet, and "Cthulhu By Gaslight", another boxed set which moved the action from the 1920s to the 1890s.

Cthulhu Now

In 1987 Chaosium issued the supplement titled "Cthulhu Now", a collection of rules, supplemental source materials and scenarios for playing "Call of Cthulhu" in the present day. This proved to be a very popular alternative milieu, so much so that much of the supplemental material is now included in the core rule book. Pagan Publishing has released a series of supplements in a similar vein, by the name "Delta Green", that is also set in the present day.

Lovecraft Country

"Lovecraft Country" was a line of supplements for "Call of Cthulhu" released in 1990. These supplements were overseen by Keith Herber and provided backgrounds and adventures set in Lovecraft's fictional towns of Arkham, Kingsport, Innsmouth, Dunwich, and their environs. The intent was to give investigators a common base, as well as to center the action on well-drawn characters with clear motivations. With the departure of Herber, Chaosium's line ended.

Recent history

In the last eight years, since the collapse of the "Mythos" CCG, the release of CoC books has been very sporadic with up to a year between releases. Chaosium struggled with near bankruptcy for many years before finally starting their upward climb again. 2005 was their busiest year for many years with ten releases for the game and many more scheduled for release in the near future.

Chaosium has recently taken to marketing "monographs"—short books by individual writers with editing and layout provided out-of-house—directly to the consumer. This allows the company to gauge market response to possible new works, though the long-term effects of this program remain uncertain.

The range of times and places in which the horrors of the Mythos can be encountered was also expanded in late 2005 onwards with the addition of "Cthulhu Dark Ages" by Stéphane Gesbert, which gives a framework for playing games set in eleventh-century Europe, "Secrets of Japan" by Michael Dziesinski for gaming in modern day Japan, and "Secrets of Kenya" by David Conyers for gaming in interwar period Africa.


Chaosium has licensed other publishers to create supplements using their rule system, notably including "Delta Green" by Pagan Publishing. Other licensees have included Theater of the Mind Enterprises, Triad Entertainment, Games Workshop, Fantasy Flight Games, RAFM, and Grenadier Models. These supplements may be set in different time frames or even different game universes from the original game.

"d20 Call of Cthulhu"

In 2001, a stand-alone version of "Call of Cthulhu" was released by Wizards of the Coast, for the d20 system. Intended to preserve the feeling of the original game, the d20 conversion of the game rules were supposed to make the game more accessible to the large "D&D" player base. The d20 system also made it possible to use "Dungeons & Dragons" characters in "Call of Cthulhu", as well as to introduce the Cthulhu Mythos into "Dungeons & Dragons" games.

The d20 version of the game is no longer supported by Wizards as per their contract with Chaosium. [cite web|url=|title= Wizards' d20 Cthulhu Forum to Close|accessdate= 2006-09-09|date= 2003-11-18|format= HTML|publisher=] Chaosium included d20 stats as an appendix in three releases (see Lovecraft Country), but have since dropped the "dual stat" idea.

"Trail of Cthulhu"

In February 2008, Pelgrane Press published "Trail of Cthulhu", a stand-alone game created by Kenneth Hite using the GUMSHOE system developed by Robin Laws. [cite web|url=|title=The Trail of Cthulhu|accessdate=2007-08-17|]

"Shadows of Cthulhu"

In September 2008, Reality Deviant Publications published "Shadows of Cthulhu", a supplement that brings Lovecraftian gaming to Green Ronin's True20 system. [cite web|url= [news_id] =437|title=Shadows of Cthulhu is now on sale!|accessdate=2008-09-16|]

Card Games

"Mythos" was a collectible card game (CCG) based on the Cthulhu Mythos that Chaosium produced and marketed during the mid-Nineties. While generally praised for its fast gameplay and unique mechanics, it ultimately failed to gain a very large market presence. It bears mention because its eventual failure brought the company to hard times that affected its ability to produce material for "Call of Cthulhu".

"Call of Cthulhu, the Living Card Game" is a second collectible card game; currently it is produced by Fantasy Flight Games.

See also

* "" video game.
* "Call of Cthulhu Collectible Card Game" - CCG based on the Cthulhu Mythos and the Chaosium pulp horror setting.
* "Delta Green" - alternate setting for "Call of Cthulhu".
* "Cthulhu Live" - a live action role-playing game version of "Call of Cthulhu".
* "Arkham Horror" - a cooperative board game based on the Mythos.


*cite journal | last=Lhomme | first=Tristan | title=Call of Cthulhu, la 5e édition américaine | journal=Casus Belli | issue=70 | pages=26 | date= July-August 1992 Review fr icon

External links

* [ Chaosium]
* [ "The Call of Cthulhu,"] H. P. Lovecraft's original story which inspired the "Call of Cthulhu RPG".
* [ Cthulhu Rising] (Website for "Cthulhu RPG" in the 23rd century)
* [ Yog-Sothoth] , A "CoC" fansite with a mostly-complete [ listing of all products produced for the game]

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